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June 10, 2013

Baseball Therapy

Does Firing the Hitting Coach Mid-Season Work?

by Russell A. Carleton


We are now a week and a half into the (interim) reign of George Brett as Royals hitting coach. Brett took over the task of straightening out Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer when tandem hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David were re-assigned within the organization. There are surely plenty of theories circulating around Kansas City as to why the Royals made the switch, but at the end of the day, they probably all boil down to "the kids aren't hitting."

It's a common script. The hitters aren't hitting as well as we thought they would at the beginning of the year, and someone must be sacrificed. Since the problem is the hitters, it must be the fault of the hitting coach. And then the spin machine goes into high gear. The new guy will have a "better connection" with the young guys. He's more hands on or hands off or hands in the air and waving them like he just doesn't care. He worked with these guys in the minors. He was a Hall of Fame hitter himself. And then the next night, the team goes out, scores seven runs (huzzah!), and someone declares "mission accomplished!" In the same way that the best quarterback on the football team is the backup quarterback, the best hitting coach in the league is the new guy in his first week.

In fact, the most common rationale for firing the hitting coach that I've heard is that it will "send a message" to the hitters to "wake up." (This is also the function of an alarm clock.) The firing of a hitting coach is a signal that can't be missed by major league hitters, and like kicking a piece of electronic equipment when it isn't working, it can only do good things.

Does firing the hitting coach actually work? Does it make the hitters on the team better? We do have evidence that a hitting coach can have a strong effect on a team. If we assume that teams have some idea of what they're doing, they should be able to spot a bad hitting coach, and if they have a better one, to slot him in there. Right? Then again, maybe the hitting coach isn't the problem. Maybe he's working hard and the hitters just aren't as good as everyone thought they were.

If firing the hitting coach works, we ought to be able to see some effects, right?

Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!
Thanks to the fine folks at Retrosheet, we have a list of coaches who worked for teams during each season, and their start and end dates on the job. And sure enough, some teams have more than one hitting coach listed, and one seems to start right after the other one comes off shift.

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Related Content:  Hitting Coach

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